We are headed into a Yin season. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the seasons can be characterized as either Yang in nature (warm, hot, dry, bright, busy, energetic, a time of growth) or Yin in nature ( cool, cold, wet, quiet, dark, slowing down, a time of conservation). Spring and summer are Yang seasons, whereas fall and winter are Yin seasons.
Yin and Yang also relate to the night and day. Yin characterizes night and Yang characterizes day. This whole concept of Yin and Yang is very fascinating, and it has to do with how certain aspects in our living world are relative to others.
Sleep is a very Yin thing and with our venture into more Yin days (longer periods of darkness) and a Yin season, today I was inspired to post about Sleep.
Proper sleep is very important, especially during the fall and winter months. Although in TCM, this is a time of year for rest and retreat, in North America the fall and winter season are full of activity: back to school, back to work, many festive occasions, we get outside to enjoy the winter season, etc. When life is going on around us, it can be difficult to resist using the night time hours after work, or after the kids have gone to bed, to get things done.
However, during this cooler season, it is important to tend to our basic needs so that our immune health, mood and energy stay strong. During this time of year, these components to our health are the most challenged. More people tend to develop colds and flus, feel the effects of the cold weather, experience “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” feel stress because of holiday planning, experience fatigue and so on.
Sleep is one of the fundamental supporters of health. When sleep is balanced people feel better.
The most important aspect to regular sleep is that a person is asleep before midnight. The secretion of our sleep hormones is based on a rhythm governed by light and dark. Our brain perceives peak light time to be noon, and peak dark time to be midnight.
SLEEP HORMONES ~ MELATONIN
Studies have shown that the optimal amounts of melatonin, one of the many essential sleep hormones, is mainly secreted between 1:00am and 3:00am. Staying up past midnight can reduce the secretion of adequate melatonin, which can contribute to restless sleep or poor sleep quality, which can leave people feeling unrefreshed in the morning and affect energy through the day. Furthermore, studies have shown that low levels of night time melatonin is a risk factor in the development of breast cancer.
SLEEP, CORTISOL & GROWTH HORMONE
Another set of hormones that is governed by this rhythm is cortisol and growth hormone. Cortisol is an important hormone that influences energy, metabolism, mood, immune function and sleep quality. In adults, growth hormone is helps with calcium retention and bone mineralization, muscle support, metabolism, blood sugar balancing and immune function.
Cortisol is often high in the morning and low at night. Conversely, the largest and most predictable surge of growth hormone occurs one hour after sleep. Disruptions in sleep rhythm can affect the healthy and normal secretion of these important hormones, which can lead to other health issues.
REGULAR SLEEP ROUTINE
The easiest way to get on a regular sleep schedule is to go to sleep consistently at a time that ensures your body is asleep before midnight. It may take some getting used to, but consistency is the key, and after a period of time the brain will respond based on routine.
Also, wearing an eye mask at night, darkening the room as much as possible and/or removing electronic devices that give off light (like alarm clocks), can help the brain better perceive dark, thus encouraging the proper secretion of sleep hormones.
HOW MUCH SLEEP?
An optimal amount of sleep is 7.5-8 hours. Sleep that occurs before midnight, that lasts an average of 8 hours and that is deep and restful is the ideal picture of sleep.
For those who have struggled with sleep, or have other health issues that cause sleep disruption, it’s ideal to consult a licensed Naturopathic Doctor to find a safe, effective and individualized treatment plan to address the whole picture of health.